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Abridean Goes Deep With Provisor 3.5
By Kevin Newcomb

October 23, 2003

While effective provisioning and user management are key to the success of any organization, their importance is magnified for a service provider. Inefficiencies and a lack of scalability in a provisioning tool would quickly spell disaster for a service provider. Chicago-based Abridean has been building provider-strength provisioning tools for nearly 4 years, and the latest version, Provisor 3.5, adds significant capabilities that can benefit both enterprises and service providers.

“When we developed the new features for the product, we didn’t differentiate — in fact, when we went out and sampled the requirements, they were almost identical in terms of the two needs,” Greg O’Malley, Abridean’s CTO, told ASPnews.

Key features of the latest version are AbrideanProvisor Gateway, an SPML-compliant interface and toolset that allows customers to easily and rapidly deploy specialized provisioning agents, and Identity Synchronizer, which ensures user administration functions that happen outside of Provisor are synchronized.

“What we’re seeing increasingly is the desire for tightly coupled provisioning activities between the customer organization and the service provider,” O’Malley said. “They want a solution to overlay the boundary of the firewall, so that provisioning events can originate from a customer’s HR system, move through to their directory, and then directly to the service provider. They don’t want to have to go to a customer self-service portal and actually do the step again.”

Abridean has adopted the emerging provisioning standard SPML (Service Provisioning Markup Language) as an integral part of Provisor. SPML is an XML implementation which was recently developed and approved by a technical committee of OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) for use in its current and future extensible interfaces. Abridean has also become a sponsoring member of OASIS.

Choosing SPML reduces the complexity of the IT environment by centralizing the whole aspect of provisioning, O’Malley said. A service provider may have a separate provisioning console for a device-oriented system, and being able to link that in seamlessly with a standard makes the integration easier.

Some vendors are saying the SPML spec is very light and could be a lot more detailed, and O’Malley agrees. While he has seen certain limitations around it, he said there are ways through extended operations and special operation attributes to get over that. According to O’Malley, Daniel Blum, Senior VP and Research Director at Burton Group, put it well when he said, “We should not let best be the enemy of good.”

“SPML is a great first step. A lot of key vendors, especially provisioning vendors, have adopted it. It’s better to make a good solid first step instead of waiting for the ideal state to come along,” O’Malley said.

“I can’t emphasize how fast it means you can deploy other capabilities as a service provider, whether they be inside or outside the datacenter,” O’Malley said. “We’re seeing in some cases, service providers whose customers want them to not only provision through their portal an event or set of digital assets on the service provider’s infrastructure, but also then trigger an event back into the customer premise to do a subsequent provisioning event. Say for example, leverage some scripting investment the customer may have to set the user up for other requirements. Tying it all into one provisioning environment makes it a lot easier to tackle.”

The Provisor 3.5 Identity Synchronization capability expands security enforcement by ensuring that identity information added directly to enterprise directories (such as Active Directory) is automatically synchronized with Provisor. This creates a more secure environment by centralizing all user access information and eliminating security gaps.

“It is critical to organizational security that a user management solution be aware of activities that occur outside of its framework,” O’Malley said. ” If a customer takes a user out of their corporate directory, the Identity Synchronizer automatically takes them out of the hosted provisioning group. What comes with that as well is improved efficiency and reduction of more manual steps, eliminating the need for the customer to go to two user interfaces for internal and external provisioning.”

The Identity Synchronizer can also be used as part of a migration or mass movement of accounts and identity information from one system to another (such as during an Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000/2003 upgrade) thus enhancing IT productivity.

Another situation the Synchronizer is suited for is when a customer has an existing environment with a directory and wants that to be the initial source of user identity information. In that situation, this capability allows the service provider to integrate with those identity stores on the customer side of the firewall and therefore significantly reduce what might have been a large integration effort. About 70 percent of Abridean’s customers are service providers, and 30 percent enterprises. O’Malley said that Abridean’s tools make it uniquely qualified to serve the market.

“There aren’t that many players in the provisioning market for service providers who are thinking beyond the needs for provisioning from end to end. A lot of them are still thinking about provisioning for specific applications, and are not necessarily worried about the whole issue of integration between directory stores, identity management and federated identity problems that are challenging organizations,” he said.

“Our customers don’t want two disparate approaches, one for inside the datacenter and another for those services through a managed provider. Other provisioning vendors don’t go very deep into the application at all. A service provider provisioning vendor like ourselves has to go very deep in order to help the service providers scale. In that enterprise provisioning space, you see vendors trying to be all things to all people, but not trying to go very deep, for example trying to turn on 60 or 70 applications but not worrying about managing them. In the service provider world, you have to go deeper than that, otherwise you’re still leaving the service provider to manage that level of complexity.”

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